Wins and Losses: A Command Analysis of Tywin Lannister Part 1: Loyalty Isn’t Optional Until It Is

Lord Tywin had said, “No man is free. Only children and fools think elsewise.” (ADWD, Tyrion II)


The Lion of Lannister, the Pragmatist, the Unyielding, the subject of songs, the destroyer of houses, the War Criminal, the Commander: Tywin Lannister was all of these and more. But the traits were not the man, the man was complex with different motives and motivations that influenced his actions. The commander that Tywin was is only a small part of his character, but it’s the part that I’ll be focusing on in these essays.

I’ve chosen the title “Wins and Losses” intentionally. Tywin Lannister proved a brilliant tactician and strategist in his youth and young adulthood. In his later adult life, he proved to be a poorer tactician but still a brilliant strategist. I also want to show that, on balance, Tywin’s victories directly correlated and corresponded to Westeros’s decline.

Administrative Note: This first section is not so much a command analysis as background and character analysis of Tywin Lannister which will be useful in evaluating Tywin’s tactical and strategic prowess later on. That said, at the end we’ll talk about Tywin’s sack of King’s Landing and the tactical and strategic planning that probably went into the action. This will help set the stage for a look at Tywin’s military/diplomatic campaigns in the War of the Five Kings.

The Fear of the Lord

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. – Nicolo Machiavelli, The Prince: CHAPTER XVII

Tywin Lannister was born the first son of Tytos Lannister and did not seem destined for greatness initially. The Lannisters of Casterly Rock were a house in decline. Much of this decline came at the behest of Tytos Lannister. Tytos was a kind and generous man who ruled the Westerlands with a gentle touch. In the opinion of Kevan Lannister, Tytos had too gentle of a touch.

“Our own father was gentle and amiable, but so weak his bannermen mocked him in their cups. Some saw fit to defy him openly. Other lords borrowed our gold and never troubled to repay it. At court they japed of toothless lions.” (ASOS, Tyrion IX)

Tywin grew up in this household. Though Tytos was kind, his weakness made him a laughingstock over those whom he nominally held lordship. This is a key feature of the development of Tywin’s personality and persona. Children develop personalities in their early childhood years. Often, these personalities develop in conjunction or contrast to their parents. Tywin developed a contrasting personality to his father’s. Where his father was a warm man, Tywin would be cold. His father was weak. Tywin would be strong and ruthless. Whereas his father tolerated open disloyalty, Tywin would put rebel heads on spikes. While his father was prone to laughter and being laughed at, Tywin was not.

“He heard too many people laughing at your grandsire.” (AFFC, Jaime V)

This would be shown first in a position where Tywin would be powerless and then repeatedly where he exercised power afterwards. 

Tytos Lannister, much like all liege-lords, had unruly banner lords under him. One such lord was Lord Tarbeck. Lord Tarbeck was unruly to the point of rebellion and treason to Casterly Rock. The specific why or how Lord Tarbeck rebelled has not been made made clear in the books so far, but the result was that Lord Tarbeck was imprisoned by Tytos Lannister.  In response, Lady Tarbeck, Lord Tarbeck’s wife, captured three Lannisters (to include Stafford Lannister who we will hear from again later on) and demanded the release of Lord Tarbeck in exchange for the three Lannisters. Tytos, being weak-kneed, did not want to risk conflict with the Tarbecks and considered conducting the exchange. Tywin, then perhaps not even a teenager, had another idea in mind.

Young Tywin suggested his father oblige by sending back Lord Tarbeck in three pieces. (ASOS, Jaime V)

Tywin’s advice went unheeded and Lord Tarbeck was exchanged for three Lannisters. Without knowing in full what went through Tywin’s mind, it’s safe to assume that this infuriated young Tywin Lannister. To Tywin, rebellion had to be crushed or else it encouraged further rebellions to spring up. It didn’t take long for Tywin to advance from mere threats to actions.

The Rains of Castamere

“And who are you?” The proud lord said “That I must bow so low.” (ASOS, Arya VII)

After a few years of uneasy peace in the Westerlands, Lord Tarbeck returned to torment the Lannisters. This time, he had the backing of the Reynes, another powerful house in the Westerlands. With their armies combined, they threatened to destroy the Lannisters or at the very least,  to further weaken the already-diminished power of the Lannisters.

At this point, Tywin Lannister, then 16 years old, was given command of all loyal Lannister bannermen by his father. Either too old, too unhealthy or too unwilling to further quarrel with his son about how to treat these rebels, Tytos effectively handed the fate of the Lannisters to a teenager who had no battlefield experience.

Here, Tywin’s psychology comes into play. As we saw above, Tywin’s personality grew in contrast to his father. This also extended to how Tywin would treat his enemies on the battlefield. There would be no mercy or quarter for these rebels. Their castles were to be utterly destroyed, their lines snuffed out forever.

Normally, most folks who consider Tywin’s mentality nod their head in agreement. These rebel lords had to suffer the consequences of their actions. I’ve read comments on various forums stating something to the tune of They deserved their fate. And I just want to stop there for a moment before we continue on. Tywin’s stated aim was to obliterate the line of these families. This meant men, women and children, young and old alike and most importantly, guilty or innocent alike. This really should give us as readers moral pause before we justify Tywin’s plan and actions. I also get that it’s a fictional story, but in fiction we can find great truths and discover things about ourselves. I would like to think that most people would react to slaughtering children much like one of the Goldcloaks did in S02 of Game of Thrones. You can see it on his face, and I felt it as a reader. I felt horror and moral outrage. I’d suggest that readers should feel the same about extinguishing an entire family line.

But moving away from the moral issues, Tywin conducted his campaign against the Reynes and Tarbecks with utter cruelty. He extinguished their entire line. But needing a more tangible way to remind his banner lords that rebellion would lead to destruction, he ordered the castles of the Tarbecks and Reynes to be torn down. Tarbeck Hall itself was torn down on top of Lady Ellyn Tarbeck, the woman who imprisoned the three Lannisters a few years past. And in the end, he allowed himself something that he very rarely allowed.

When Tarbeck Hall came crashing down on Lady Ellyn, that scheming bitch, Tyg claimed he smiled then. (AFFC, Jaime V)

The Rewards of Ruthlessness

Tywin’s destruction of the Reynes and Tarbecks brought immediate notice to the young heir of Casterly Rock. No Lannister banner lords rebelled against the Lannister, knowing the destruction that would await them. Even those lords who Tywin suspected of harboring rebellious thoughts against the Lannisters were soon reminded of the fate that awaited those who were disloyal.

Some years later, when Lord Farman of Faircastle grew truculent, Lord Tywin sent an envoy bearing a lute instead of a letter. But once he’d heard “The Rains of Castamere” echoing through his hall, Lord Farman gave no further trouble. And if the song were not enough, the shattered castles of the Reynes and Tarbecks still stood as mute testimony to the fate that awaited those who chose to scorn the power of Casterly Rock. (ASOS, Tyrion III)

But Tywin wasn’t done yet reminding the world who he was and more importantly, who the Lannisters were. His father died in 267AL leaving Casterly Rock, the Westerlands and the title of Warden of the West to Tywin. Tywin’s first action as lord of Casterly Rock was to order Tytos’s mistress stripped naked and paraded through the streets. No one would besmirch the Lannister name, especially some common-born mistress.

But more than attracting notice from the Westerlands, he received national attention, particularly from House Targaryen. The Targaryens had ruled parts of Westeros for the past 270 years and all of Westeros for about 115 years. Their latest King, named Aerys II was looking for a man who could administer the kingdom ably and loyally. To Aerys, Tywin seemed the apostle of loyalty. He would not suffer disloyalty from his vassal lords in the Westerlands. How much more would Tywin incur loyalty from among all Westerosi lords to the Targaryen throne?

And so, Tywin Lannister was named Hand of the King at the young age of 20. And instead of being a careless administrator, Tywin proved to be a brilliant and extremely capable Hand of the King. The problem was that Aerys II was slowly turning the Targaryen coin from brilliance to madness.
It could be said that Tywin administered too well, but the truth of the matter was that Tywin governed effectively, and it was only Aerys’s turn to madness which made Tywin too effective. Moreover, Tywin also married and Aerys II lusted after his wife. After Jaime and Cersei were born, Tywin’s proposal of marriage between Aerys’s son Rhaegar and Tywin’s daughter Cersei was soundly rejected. Jaime (for complicated reasons which I won’t get into) was made a member of the Kingsguard in King’s Landing. Jaime was heir to Casterly Rock. Aerys’s action deprived Tywin of a capable heir of Casterly Rock. And the only thing more important than loyalty to Tywin was the Lannister name.
Aerys’s suspicion of Tywin and his growing madness created an unbridgeable divide between the two men. And so, Tywin resigned his position as Hand of the King on thin pretense and returned to Casterly Rock.

Destroying the Village to Save It

Aerys Targaryen must have thought that his gods had answered his prayers when Lord Tywin Lannister appeared before the gates of King’s Landing with an army twelve thousand strong, professing loyalty. So the mad king had ordered his last mad act. He had opened his city to the lions at the gate. (AGOT, Eddard II)

Shortly after Tywin returned to Casterly Rock, news of a great rebellion must have reached him. Four of the great houses of Westeros (Stark, Baratheon, Tully and Arryn) rose up against Aerys II Targaryen after the brutal murder of Rickard and Brandon Stark, but also probably as a result of Southron Ambitions. With these houses rising against the Targaryens, Tywin would be a prime candidate to call his banners to aid his king. Unfortunately for the Targaryens, Tywin and Aerys were alienated from each other on account of Aerys’s suspicions, actions and madness. But this did not initially translate into Tywin and the Lannisters joining the rebel side. Instead, he is later accused by his grandson of acting cowardly during the opening acts of Robert’s Rebellion.

“You talk about Aerys, Grandfather, but you were scared of him.”

Oh, my, hasn’t this gotten interesting Tyrion thought.

Lord Tywin studied his grandchild in silence, gold flecks shining in his pale green eyes.

“Joffrey, apologize to your grandfather,” said Cersei.

He wrenched free of her. “Why should I? Everyone knows it’s true. My father won all the battles. He killed Prince Rhaegar and took the crown, while your father was hiding under Casterly Rock. ” (ASOS, Tyrion V)

But I don’t think it was cowardice for Tywin to hold back. For a very short time, the victors of the war were in doubt. Would the rebels triumph over the Targaryen-Dornish-Tyrell alliance? Most of these questions were firmly answered at the Trident where Robert Baratheon killed Rhaegar Targaryen in battle. Following the decisive rebel victory, Tywin called his banners and marched on King’s Landing with 12,000 men.

Tywin’s plan was simple. Pose as Targaryen loyalists to gain access through the city gates. Seizing King’s Landing by force would probably be impossible for a force of his side. And even if it were possible, the casualties alone would be devastating to the Westerlands. Much later, Tyrion reflects on his father’s words just prior to the Siege of King’s Landing.

Soon enough, he must test the truth of another of his father’s sayings: One man on a wall was worth ten beneath it. (ACOK, Tyrion XI)

At King’s Landing, we see both Tywin’s cunning and ruthlessness culminate in one of the great war crimes of that age. After Tywin professed his loyalty to the Targaryens and is allowed to enter the city unimpeded, his army began raping and slaughtering the inhabitants of King’s Landing. Most, if not all but a handful, of those raped and killed by the Lannisters were innocent of any connection to the Targaryens and the terror of that day was great.

“Your Grace,” said Jorah Mormont, “I saw King’s Landing after the Sack. Babes were butchered that day as well, and old men, and children at play. More women were raped than you can count. (ASOS, Daenerys II)


But these were all necessary casualties in Tywin’s mind to ensure that the Lannister family legacy lived on. At the very end of the slaughter, two of Tywin’s knights (Gregor Clegane and Amory Lorch) were ordered to commit one last act of butchery to ensure that his legacy would live on. Princess Elia, the wife of Rhaegar Targaryen, and her two children had to die to cement his new loyalty to Robert Baratheon.

“We had come late to Robert’s cause. It was necessary to demonstrate our loyalty. When I laid those bodies before the throne, no man could doubt that we had forsaken House Targaryen forever. And Robert’s relief was palpable. As stupid as he was, even he knew that Rhaegar’s children had to die if his throne was ever to be secure. Yet he saw himself as a hero, and heroes do not kill children.” (ASOS, Tyrion VI)

It’s an interesting callback to the destruction of the Reynes and Tarbecks. The Targaryen line had to be extinguished in order for the Lannister legacy to live on. And the legacy would live on in fear to the people of King’s Landing and Westeros at large. Loyalty was an essential component of Tywin Lannister’s personality, but that loyalty came first to the Lannister family and name. But this loyalty to the throne was variable depending on whether the current occupant benefited the Lannisters.

Part 2 will be a more in-depth discussion of Tywin’s tactical and strategic aims and movements during the first part of the War of the Five Kings. We’ll talk about his strategy to contain Robb Stark in the North and what he hoped to achieve by dividing his forces into two parts. We’ll also expand more on the unethical warfare that he conducted in the Riverlands and what aims he hoped to achieve by unleashing Gregor Clegane and Amory Lorch. We’ll also examine the roots of Tywin’s tactical failure and strategic success in his war against Robb Stark and also do some speculation on what Tywin could have done better. Thanks for reading. Comment below or on reddit!


Filed under ASOIAF Military Analysis

15 responses to “Wins and Losses: A Command Analysis of Tywin Lannister Part 1: Loyalty Isn’t Optional Until It Is

  1. King Omar

    Great read, you really captured the essence of Tywin’s character, especially when you looked at his childhood. It’s not commented on much, but it shaped the man utterly.

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  6. Roger

    I’m not sure the sack of KL was an intentioned act. Tywin objective was to quickly take the Red Keep before Aerys killed Jaime. Or before NEd Stark’s arrived and battled him by error. Leting his troops sacking and raping during this operation was clearly somewhat unwanted.

    Mayhaps while his troops marched to the Keep walked to the streets found some resistante from the Golden Cloaks… And in response, they burned houses and sacked. His force (only 10.000) was probably a quickly assembled force (after knowing the result of the Trident), which had just come from a forced march.

    And some loyalists in the city resisted after Aerys’ death.

    Of course, Tywin is to blame to some point: AFAIK, he did nothing to stop his men. Or to punish them.

  7. Roger

    And also: Pycelle persuaded Aerys to open the doors. But the maester NEVER said Tywin ordered him to do it.

  8. the Bolton

    I wish to make some comments, however my comments are contrary to yours. It is from the new encyclopedia of ice and fire.
    May i make these comments in private with you?


  9. Fahimul

    ” Most, if not all but a handful, of those raped and killed by the Lannisters were innocent of any connection to the Targaryens and the terror of that day was great.” Not sure you can blame Tywin on this one. Raping the inhabitants of the losing side was common in that time. In fact, I think the ONLY lord that doesn’t allow it is Stannis

  10. Men call me Henman

    Something worthy of pointing out, usually when soldiers act brutally it is due to the horrific violence going on around them desensitising them to the suffering of others; they have watched friends and comrades die, suffered and lived under threat of death and may soon be dead anyway, why shouldn’t they steal and rape?
    But for Tywin’s army there was none of that, those men hadn’t suffered any trauma or losses, the only ones who had seen battle, other than with brigands or other outlaws, where involved in Tywin’s campaign against the Reynes and Tarbecks 20 years before. And what’s more, there would be limiting campaigning afterwards, as most of the men could probably guess; Rhaegar was dead and after King’s Landing so would the rest of the Targaryens, and since the battle was a slaughter it seems unlikely that the Lannister soldiers had too great a fear of death.
    So the only conclusion I can draw from this is that Tywin didn’t “allow” the sack so much as order it, he wanted the city to suffer, he had absolutely nothing to gain from such, other than satisfying his hatred towards Aerys, and since we have seen such treatment towards the Reynes and Elia Martell it does not seem surprising.

    • This is a really interesting point and something worth more exploration. Fans and Tywin himself exempt his actions at KL as the situation running away from Tywin, but you are right on the mark. Westerlanders didn’t fight at all in Robert’s Rebellion. The “blood wasn’t up” for them. They were acting completely under orders. I think I’m going to write at a little more length about this on reddit. I will gladly and happily cite you for it!

  11. Paul

    Lovely essay, I’m curious if you have any new thoughts based on the more fleshed out backstory in “The World of Ice and Fire.” I know a lot of it is potentially biased in favor of house Lannister, but I think it’s easy to pick out the propaganda. I thought there was a lot of really great information on Tywin’s psyche. If anything, the sack of kings landing feels like retribution for over a decade of intentional disgrace and insult by Aerys against Tywin. Not to excuse the sack, but I find it interesting.

  12. Pingback: Wins and Losses: A Command Analysis of Tywin Lannister Part 1: Loyalty Isn’t Optional Until It Is – Nikolaj Coster-Waldau Hungary

  13. I don’t remember Tywin ever stating that his aim was to destroy the Reynes or the Tarbecks. I think that if either of them had decided to surrender instead of holing up in their castle, Tywin would have accepted the surrender, with some punishment. (Mostly demotions, maybe the Wall).
    Not saying he would have liked it better.

    On the other hand, Aegon the conqueror did state that he would end Harren Hoare’s line.

  14. If I was Tywin I would have been even more cruel, because at the end you have to do the job.And remind everyone who is in charge.

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